Russian ex-journalist Safronov sentenced to 22 years in prison for treason

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  • Reporter denies treason charges
  • Supporters denounce ‘savage punishment’ to 22 years in prison
  • Case marks escalation in Kremlin’s war on free media

September 5 (Reuters) – A Russian court on Monday sentenced a former journalist to 22 years in prison for treason after prosecutors said he leaked state secrets, a move his supporters said was punishment unduly harsh which showed the lack of freedom of the media in Russia.

Ivan Safronov, a former defense reporter for Kommersant and Vedomosti newspapers who became an adviser to the head of Russia’s space agency, was arrested in 2020 and charged with leaking classified information.

Safronov’s lawyers told the RIA Novosti news agency they would appeal the verdict.

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His supporters say the case is revenge for his reporting which revealed details of Russia’s international arms deals.

“Everyone close to Safronov thinks the charge of treason is nonsense,” journalist Katerina Gordeeva said after interviewing her mother, sister and former colleagues for a documentary about the case.

Human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov said the sentence was “a savage, obviously cruel punishment, corresponding to the current state of Russia”. He said he had not found any example of a treason case resulting in such a long sentence, let alone against a journalist.

Ahead of the sentencing, the European Union called on Russia to drop all charges against Safronov, 32, and release him unconditionally.

Prosecutors said Safronov shared state secrets about Russian arms sales in the Middle East to the Czech Republic’s foreign intelligence arm. He has denied the charges all along and last month rejected a plea deal that would have seen him serve a 12-year prison sentence.

His arrest in July 2020 sparked outcry from Russian journalists, including state media.

OPEN SOURCE?

Safronov, 32, strongly denied the charges and said the information he allegedly passed on to the Czech Republic was all public, open-source information.

During the trial, his legal team posted links to 19 published articles and government statements that prosecutors say constitute “state secrets” that Safronov allegedly passed on to Czech foreign intelligence services.

“Ivan never sent secret information anywhere – for money or free of charge. All prosecution witnesses testified in court that he was not engaged in criminal activity. He was a journalist ordinary, honestly doing his job,” his lawyers said in a statement.

His defense team believe the trial is revenge for Safronov revealing Russia’s plans to sell fighter jets to Egypt. The estimated $2 billion deal was scrapped soon after when the United States threatened Cairo with sanctions if it went ahead.

Ahead of Monday’s hearing, several independent Russian media called for Safronov’s release. In a statement, outlets including Meduza, Novaya Gazeta and TV Rain said it was “clear” that Safronov was being punished for his reporting on Russian military supply deals that angered the Russian Defense Ministry.

The heavy sentence – longer than Russian courts typically hand down in murder cases – is seen as a historic blow to Russian reporting amid increased pressure on press freedom from the Kremlin since the Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Separately, on Monday, a Moscow court revoked the publishing license of Novaya Gazeta, a flagship independent newspaper that ceased publication days after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops to Ukraine and imposed tough new controls. on the media. Read more

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Reuters reporting; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Guy Faulconbridge

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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